Four Ways to be a Better Caregiver from a Distance

By Maggie Cunningham

When you live in a different city or state than your parent(s) it can be hard to connect. As they begin to grow older and experience health issues, it can become overwhelming to think of all the care challenges. Being a caregiver is stressful enough as it is, but when you’re miles apart it can seem utterly impossible. 

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A recent MetLife/National Alliance for Caregiving report found that an estimated 34 million Americans act as a caregiver for an older parent. Within that population, about 15 percent live at least one hour away from the care recipient. What does this mean? It means that you are not alone. 

Many stressful thoughts or feelings of guilt often come with long-distance caregiving. You may worry about what could happen if something suddenly happens and your parent’s condition changes, or who will make sure the daily tasks such as medicine dosage are being taken care of. You may also worry about the financial aspects of caregiving from a distance. 

Coordinating senior living or medical services can cost you time, missed work and travel as well as other out-of-pocket expenses. You may also feel left out of decisions made by those who do live nearby. 

Try these strategies to make the process easier: 

  1. Schedule family meetings. If you aren’t able to attend the meeting in person, take advantage of modern technology and dial in using Skype on any computer or phone, FaceTime on Apple products or any other video call service. Use these meetings to organize documents, make important decisions ahead of time and gather contact information so everyone has quick access to caregivers and doctors involved in your loved one’s care. 
  2. Work together. If other family members are more hands-on because of their location, you can take ownership of more hands-off duties from a distance, like financial management, care implementation and team organization. The more you can do from afar, the easier it is for friends and relatives close by who are offering physical help. You may be seen as the organizer, so you can help ensure that caregiving tasks are equally distributed. 
  3. Plan your visits. Work with those who live near your loved one to find the best times to visit and plan out as much of the time as possible so you aren’t overwhelmed when you arrive. You can use these visits as a chance to meet with everyone face to face or as a chance to give other caregivers some time off or a chance to take a vacation. Remember to spend quality time with your loved one and the other caregivers if possible, in addition to completing necessary tasks. 
  4. Set up a sharing website. Websites like CaringBridge, Lotsa Helping Hands and Meal Train allow friends and family to sign up for different jobs or tasks. This is a great way to visualize the tasks at hand and keeps family members near and far in the loop about the loved one’s progress. 

It is important to remember that you are not alone. Many people you may know are feeling the same stresses and burdens you are. Seek support in the communities around you and online. You can also seek help by calling 1-866-KINDRED and speaking to a registered nurse 24/7.